Melancholy, not depression

Abraham Lincoln had bouts of melancholy, not depression, says Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals.

“Unlike depression, melancholy does not have a specific cause,” she writes. “It is an aspect of temperament, perhaps genetically based.”

The root of Lincoln’s melancholy was his empathy, Goodwin believes, “derived in large part from an acute sensitivity to the pains and injustices he perceived in the world. He was uncommonly tenderhearted.”

His empathy, she says, was a tremendous asset to his political career because it “gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.”

Also, his melancholy sometimes “signaled a withdrawal to the solitude of thought” when Lincoln would retreat to read or to work through a problem by himself.

Often, Lincoln, a great storyteller, told amusing jokes or tales “to whistle off sadness.”

Depression, of course, can be devastating. But, the next time I’m suffering from a minor bout of melancholy, I’m going to try to use the time to my advantage—to feel empathy for others or to retreat to think. And, I’ll remember that laughter can be a great cure for sadness.

I’ll write one more blog post about Lincoln and his Team of Rivals. I listened to the audio book, and it runs for 41 hours.


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